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It’s us or the wind turbines!

I have just read the various articles and letters about the proposed wind turbines at North Tolsta.

Several of the letters make reference to the impact on tourism, so I thought that a view from a tourist might be of interest.

My wife and I are regular visitors to Lewis and are making another trip there next month.

The things which attract us to return are the stunning scenery and the unspoilt tranquillity of the island.

One of the arguments for the large masts at North Tolsta seems to be that they are essential to make the inter-connector viable and hence enable further wind farms elsewhere on Lewis.

Would we keep coming back to the island if it were covered in wind turbines?

The answer is, I’m afraid: “Definitely not.”

One source which I have read suggests that tourism is the only growing industry on Lewis and creates over £45m per annum in revenue for the islands.

By contrast, I understand that the benefit to the community for the proposed wind turbines is about £350,000 per annum. That represents only 0.78% of the revenue to tourism.

To put that into context, if only one person in every 128 visitors is put off, then there will be a net loss to the island.

The situation is, however, much worse than that.

We first visited Lewis because we had heard how beautiful it is.

We return because, once you have visited, you cannot help but be captivated by the island.

So a lost visitor is probably a lost visitor in perpetuity. And we tell our friends about how wonderful the island is, as a result of which several people that we know have visited.

We would not do that if the island was covered in wind farms.

Other letters have already argued how fatuous the argument is that the project will create jobs, but it is worth adding that any jobs that are created are likely to be offset by the loss of jobs in tourism.

As others have pointed out, any new jobs are likely to be short-term during the construction period.

Jobs lost in tourism, by contrast, are likely to be long term.

Another feature of Lewis which attracts visitors is the unique wildlife and particularly the island’s birds.

There is reference in other letters to the probability of 24 golden eagles being killed, presumably by collision with the blades, but the impact of wind farms on birds is much more far-reaching than deaths through impact.

A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Applied Ecology (Julia Gómez‐Catasús, Vicente Garza and Juan Traba; January 2018) concluded that “wind farms affect the occurrence, abundance and population trends of small passerine birds”.

This study evaluated the effect of wind turbines on the population trends of Dupont’s lark. The results showed that, away from wind farms, the population was declining by 5.8% per annum.

Within 4.5 kilometres of wind farms, however, the decline was 21.0% per annum. Any significant impact on bird numbers on Lewis would not only be an ecological disaster, but would also be a further negative impact on the islands’ tourist economy.

Furthermore, the economic impact of any loss to the tourist trade may have an effect beyond Lewis itself.

On our trip next month, for example, we are travelling to Barra and then up through the Outer Hebrides to Stornoway.

We will be spending a significant amount on Lewis itself for our hotel, meals and car hire, but we will also be spending almost the same amount again on hotels, meals and travel on other islands and on the Scottish mainland.

Would we do that to visit a windfarm? – Yours, etc.,

Peter Cole